As we celebrate the 39th anniversary of Independence of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it’s a time for reflection. We are approaching what can be regarded as a milestone a sign of maturity, which is often associated with wisdom and experience. To what extent is this true of our nation? We can recall the efforts of Prime Ministers, The Right Honourable Milton Cato, the Rt. Honourable Sir James Mitchell, the Honourable Arnhim Eustace and currently Dr. The Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, and their parliamentary colleagues; we give thanks to God for their dedication and outstanding contribution to the development of this nation.
Let us not forget the many other citizens who have done yeoman service to this nation, Public servants, teachers, lawyers, doctors, nurses, pharmacist, farmers, peasants, public health workers, fishermen and woman, vendors, traffickers, taxi drivers, carpenters, masons, skilled and non-skilled workers, social workers, and unsung heroes in the various villages throughout the length and breadth of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Old, middle age and youth and the list goes on. We cannot forget the commercial sector; supermarkets, stores, financial institutions; banks, credit unions and others.
The ministry of the religious community, and contribution of service clubs, sporting organisations, community groups, and youth groups have made and continue to make their rightful and noteworthy contribution to the forward movement of this nation. Once more we express our gratitude to them and even more so to God for the gifts and the occasions of service he enabled.
In Mark 12: 17 Jesus is quoted as saying: ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’
Initially, Jesus’ words seem to state that there is an equality of prominence between the state and God. However, Jesus’ words sit within the framework of the coming kingdom of God and within the context of a specific question concerning taxation. The notion is that the kingdom of God is at hand, God’s realm and reign is coming into the world of human affairs. The emperor’s rule, represented by his image on the coin, is one which will pass away. The emperor needs funds to run his empire, but this cannot be compared to the rule of God. As the French Biblical Scholar Alfred Firmin Loisy has said: “Let the things of this world be esteemed according to the smallness of their value, and let these duties be discharged as necessity may arise; but let men know above all that the greatest thing lies elsewhere, in fidelity to the heavenly Father.”
By placing the emperor and God together, Jesus establishes a relationship between both realms. “We cannot settle questions of political life without considering the claims of God, nor seek to live a religious life oblivious to the problems of society”, Robert Tannehill.
Over these past 39 years, how well have we been giving to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s. Over the past 39 years, we have made some strides economically, institutionally, academically and infrastructural. Amidst this have we matured sufficiently over the past 39 years in our moral, social, spiritual and cultural character as a people and a nation? Here we are not speaking of a utopian dream, rather we refer to a state of being which is within the capability and capacity of human beings in spite of the weakness and frailty of human nature.
Often the developmental narrative focuses on the economic and infrastructural and less attention is paid to moral, social, spiritual and cultural advancement. These are crucial to the development of our nation. The promotion of Vincentian values, and activities through which the importance of respect, honesty, integrity, credibility, acceptance and understanding diversity are inculcated are very important for the growth and forward movement of our nation.
To what extent have we developed morally? This speaks of our sense of right and wrong (preferring right) and relates to issues of honesty, integrity and credibility. How have we developed socially? This speaks of our sense of responsibility and fellowship as members of families and communities? It asks questions about how we treat the vulnerable among us; our women and girls. Incidents, stories, and accusations of domestic violence, sexual harassment and general abuse of our women, girls and children are existent in our nation and not at decreasing levels, in spite of educational programmes and legislation being put in place.
Spiritual development speaks to our relationship with God and provides grounding for our morality and general approach to life. It imbues us with a sense of awe and the humility to appreciate that we are not “monarchs of all I survey”. This informs our sense value and respect for one another and for our physical environment. It raises questions about the dignity and worth of every human being and informs our conversation on the increase in crime and violence, our value for human life.
Cultural development involves acquiring an understanding of cultural traditions and ability to appreciate and respond to a variety of aesthetic experiences. To acquire a respect for our own culture and that of others, an interest in others’ ways of doing things and curiosity about differences must be developed. Cultural development involves the knowledge, skills, understanding, qualities and attitudes needed to understand, appreciate and contribute to culture.
It also speaks of inculcating the necessary skills to critique and assess cultural practices, for there are aspects of culture which are not healthy and uplifting and therefore need to be redeemed and transformed.
We can also look at the widening gap between the haves and the have-notss, the number of vagrants and street people, the amount of young people who have completed their secondary and some tertiary education and find it difficult to gain employment. Invariably there are accomplishments and, certainly, there are concerns. Independence provides us with an opportunity to evaluate where we have come from and where we are; asking questions about our temporal and spiritual obligations (the Emperor and God).
In Philippians 4, St. Paul as he addresses a division between two women in the church at Philippi implores them not to do what comes natural to them, which is to think about how miserable and awful the other person is. Rather, they should think about all of their best characteristics: what is true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. By doing this, it promotes peace rather than division. Paul states that by doing these things, the God of peace will be with them.
(Philippians 4: 8-9: 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.)
These words of St. Paul are not only important for resolving disunity, they are also very helpful in moulding and building community and promoting positive moral, social, spiritual and cultural values.
As we celebrate our thirty ninth anniversary of independence let us not only focus our minds on the economical, institutional, infra-structural, and intellectual development of our nation but also on the moral, social, spiritual and cultural development as well.
How well have we been giving to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s? As we reflect on this may we be assured that “Our steps are made firm by the LORD, when he delights in our way; though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the LORD holds us by the hand. (Psalm 37:23-24). These are words of trust, trust from God in us, looking at us with pride, always ready to help us. It also speaks of the need for us to trust God, for it is through that trust we will receive support and strength in whatever situation we may find ourselves. God loves us, and wants what is best for us. Therefore, in good times and when we have failed we will know the Lord’s blessing and support, comfort and love. May we be confident that we are upheld by God who walks alongside us in every situation.
The St. Vincent and the Grenadines Christian Council takes this opportunity to wish you a Happy Independence! May God continue to bless and guide this nation.